The feature debut of documentarian Kevin Maconald (Marley), The Last King of Scotland is a 2006 historical thriller – not about Alex Salmond, but former Ugandan President Idi Amin (Forest Whittaker).
The story is seen through the eyes of a fictional Scottish doctor (James McAvoy), who travels to Uganda in 1970 for a wee bit of adventure, but ends up a close personal ally of a military dictator. We’ve all been there.
This is all made convincing by the two central actors. Whittaker’s Oscar-winning performance as Amin fills the screen; all charm and smiles until he’s all paranoia and shouting. McAvoy is brilliant as ever – the man can act in three different accents; that’s three more than Ewan McGregor.
There’s great support from David Oyelowo (Selma), Gillian Anderson and the always sinister Simon McBurney as an objectionable English diplomat; a sneering reminder that the British installed Amin in the first place. The screenplay by Peter Morgan (Rush) and Jeremy Brock, based on Giles Foden’s novel, impressively balances historical record with fictional drama; Morgan’s signature combo.
It’s an exciting combination, directed with great energy and visual flair by McDonald; the film starts out vibrant and colourful, growing darker as McAvoy’s naïve character realises too late the truth about Amin’s brutal regime. No spoilers, but his naïvety leads to some pretty terrible decisions on his part – and I’m not talking about Welcome to the Punch.
These plot elements do rather stretch plausibility, but the film grips us right through to its surprisingly gruelling final moments – with some equally gruelling visual effects. With its edge-of-your-seat climax and smart mixture of historical fact and thrilling fiction, it’s like a Scottish Argo; let’s call it Argyll.
Featuring great performances, on-location filming and a soundtrack that nicely fuses African and Western music, The Last King of Scotland is the film The Constant Gardener could have been, were it not so boring.